Colum LynchFrance blocks US bid for key UN position
Friday, August 4, 2000
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 3 –– France has blocked a U.S. proposal to create a senior position for an American official in the United Nations' peacekeeping department, dealing a setback to Washington's efforts to enhance its oversight of U.N. military operations.
After objections from the French government, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan rebuffed a request by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to hire Jacques Klein, a former U.S. Air Force general who currently oversees U.N. operations in Bosnia, as the deputy undersecretary for peacekeeping, U.S. and U.N. officials said.
In the past year, the size of the U.N. peacekeeping force has nearly tripled, to 35,000, with major operations opening or expanding in Sierra Leone, southern Lebanon and East Timor. Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has expressed concern that the U.N. peacekeeping department does not have enough managerial expertise, money, equipment or well-trained troops to meet the growing demand.
The Clinton administration says the new post of deputy undersecretary would enhance the effectiveness of U.N. peacekeeping operations, and that it should be filled by a respected American who can improve the organization's relations with Congress and the Pentagon. The United States also advocates beefing up the U.N. peacekeeping department in New York, which employs 410 people, about half as many as those working at the world body's department of public information.
But France, which controls the top peacekeeping post, viewed the initiative as a challenge to its influence at the United Nations, according to diplomats.
France's ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, has complained that Washington already exerts excessive authority at the organization. As the current holder of the rotating presidency of the European Union, France is committed to expanding European influence in the world body.
Levitte pointedly told reporters at a news conference earlier this month that the European Union's 15 members together pay more than the United States does toward the United Nations' expenses.
The EU pays for 36 percent of the organization's regular operating budget and 39 percent of its special peacekeeping budget, "right on time with no arguments," he said. While the United States pays for 25 percent of each--more in dollar terms than any other single country--congressional leaders routinely hold up payments for specific peacekeeping operations that they oppose and have placed tough conditions on the payment of the country's debts to the United Nations, which amount to nearly $1 billion, by the U.S. count, or to more than $1.6 billion, according to U.N. calculations.
Moreover, the United States no longer provides peacekeeping troops for the organization's far-flung missions, though Washington does supply more than 700 police officers to support NATO operations in the Balkans.
"We are the heavy lifters in this system," Levitte contended. "The U.S.A. is a single country, but it makes as much noise as if it was 15; whereas we are 15 but we sound as if we were just one country. I feel it is desirable for the 15 together to make their weight felt."
French officials deny that they single-handedly blocked Albright's proposal to create a No. 2 post in the peacekeeping department, according to diplomats familiar with the dispute. Publicly at least, they insist that France would welcome a greater American role.
But U.S. officials say that France played a decisive role in persuading Annan not to establish the post. "This has been a source of tension," said one U.S. official. "We have been pushing for a deputy because it makes sense. Any military structure requires a decent deputy. But someone in the French government has been making some calls on this."
In the meantime, the U.N. Secretariat has been trying to broker a compromise. Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister who is completing a study of U.N. peacekeeping, has proposed a slightly less senior post, a senior assistant secretary general. There already are two assistant secretary general posts in the peacekeeping department, one of which is vacant.
Diplomats said that if Brahimi's compromise is adopted, it appears unlikely that the United States would be given the principal post. Instead, Washington may have to settle for heading logistics and field operations.
The United States, meanwhile, has dropped Klein's candidacy in favor of Jock Covey, a former National Security Council staff member now serving as the United Nations' deputy administrator in Kosovo. "There was a buzz about Klein and that Holbrooke would like to have him come in and kick butt around here," said one official. "But suddenly, the Americans switched horses."